My Commentary on W. David Lewis and Iron and Steel in America

(Iron and Steel in America: Early Foundations by W. David Lewis)

Lewis argues in his article that the United States originally used minimal iron compared to Europe, but as colonialization increased in the colonies so to did iron requirements. Almost everything was made out of wood in the 1600s and 1700s. Boats, wagons, tools, homes, wheels, machine parts and screws were all wood but iron proved to be better for all of these purposes. Iron was used and required in guns, armor, tires, roofing, railroads, horseshoes, cutlery, swords, tool edges and plow heads, and more. Iron became increasingly demanded upon as the colonies expanded.

In the British colonies producers of wrought and pig iron used bloomeries because the iron masses produced were called bloom. While bloomeries were easy to set up they were small-scale in operation, this limited production. For larger scale operations a blast furnace was required. These were heftier to build and made of stone 25’ high in a pyramid shape, then layered in clay and layered again with more stone. A hole in the top called the “throat/tunnel head” opened up to the “bosh” which served as funnel into the “crucible” where iron was melted. A small hole near the bottom “tuyere” is where a bellow forced oxygen into the fire. The “hearth” at the bottom served as a drain and was blocked with a “damstone” until the white-hot iron was ready to pour out into sand molds. This was called “pig iron.” Limestone and charcoal fed into the furnace to act as fuel and a bonding agent for impurities.

Lewis continues to expand on the need for iron in the early United States and gives figures on its production through the 18th century. The pig iron was either sold, refined into wrought iron or steel. The US increased from 1,500 tons of iron produced in 1700 to 210,000 tons by 1775. What this means for the American people is that they desired higher quality tools, machines, vehicles, and several areas of the country structured their economies around the iron industry like Appalachia. This impressive feature of copying Old World techniques and then exponentially increasing production is a testament to the pioneering attitudes of Americans.

I liked Lewis’s use of national production figures and so I found an article from the USGS on the current (2015) global production of iron now. The article interestingly goes into detail on how there is controversy today on how to measure iron output per nation. There are multiple ways of measuring either iron ore dug from the ground, which is often unusable and usable iron ore that is qualified for global market use. The biggest controversy is comparing Chinese iron production with the rest of the world. China’s difference in measuring iron ore production has actually led to a global overestimate of mined iron that the USGS is now trying to refigure and correct. I also found an interesting page on coal and iron usage and production in Appalachia, which has a lot of great pictures to help understand how these furnaces, iron objects and tools, and mining processes worked.

–Jordan Dickey

Harris and my thoughts on Coal Technology

(The Rise of Coal Technology)

Harris’s article covers the idea that coal and the technology developed because the increasing use of coal, served as a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution in England. He does not outright say this but alludes to coal being widely used well before the traditional “start” of the Industrial Revolution. Such technologies that developed and aided the birth of the Industrial Revolution because of coal include iron and steel production methods, glass making, and the eventual Newcomen engine. Coal was enhanced into a more pure form known as coke, which was basically smoked coal that had removed other impurities.

Crucibles were developed to better retain heat in creating coke, and this innovation later moved into the metallurgy and glass making industries that led to a production of higher quality iron and glass. A similar idea was the reverberatory furnaces that first appeared in Bristol in 1702 that led to higher quality brass production. These new industries required more coal which required more mining, and the demand for coal and coke led to the design of the Newcomen engine which used vacuum chambers to cyclically remove water from mineshafts. A man named Darby created pig iron using coke which molded easily but could not be forged. The process was later refined by Henry Cort in the 1780’s where iron was remelted using coal fire and a reverberatory furnace to create more malleable wrought iron.

Harris again alludes to coal being a catalyst for England’s technological leap known as the Industrial Revolution by stating in the 1600’s and 1700’s that England was lagging in competition with other European nations for quality and production but after the development of these coal technologies skyrocketed forward in both realms (quality of metals and production). Many Swedish, German, and French engineers traveled to England to study their innovations. In conclusion, Harris presents that coal led to several innovations across England. English engineers then adapted these technologies for other industries that led to the Industrial Revolution.

I found some amazing articles to add on to this article. I found one documentary from 1920 about the coking industry in the United States. It is a silent film by Bray Pictures studying a plant in New York City. Coke begins as coal that is loaded into a holding yard off of ships and trains. The coal is then loaded onto belts to be pulverized before being carried into a retort inside the factory. Here the coal powder is baked at 1100 C for 13 hours before being quenched like steel. Water towers outside the factory cool the piping hot coke residue. Lastly the coke is rune through layers of iron and wood chip filters like a sand and charcoal water filter. The documentary also covers the uses and recovery of the byproducts of coke production and is fascinating. I found a second article though that highlights the environmental issues with coal mining, production, and usage.

Revised Nanban Armor Paper

Nanban: Japan’s European Armor

Japan has had a strong impact on Western societies, but the opposite is also true. Japanese technology changed forever at the end of the 16th century. Japanese armor smiths created a new type of armor, called nanban, in order to mix Japanese armor mobility and European bullet-proofing.

Tokugawa Ieyasu introduced nanban armor, meaning “Southern Barbarian” on October 20, 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara.[1] The battle plunged Ieyasu into position as the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate that lasted until 1868.[2] Nanban armor developed after Portuguese muskets and breastplates came to Japan on trading vessels as early as 1543.[3] As the nanban trade between Europe and Japan became more common, the more the nature of Japanese warfare changed. The Japanese increasingly incorporated European weapons and armors in battle, so to increase the defensive capabilities of his soldiers against firearms, Ieyasu utilized these new Nanban suits of armor.

Nanban armor differs from all previous Japanese armor and European armor as it created a hybrid of the two, keeping the best aspects of both cultures. Nanban started with an unaltered, though often decorated, steel cuirass that weighed roughly 10kg, a 2.5kg helmet, and another 2.2kg backside.[4] The armor was incredibly rare but extremely reliable. Armor smiths tested their work and fired up to 10 “proof marks” into nanban cuirasses to ensure reliability.[5] Both European and altered Japanese versions of the helmets, or kabuto, existed with various suits of armor. Ieyasu gave the rare European morions to his generals while later the nanban-kabuto utilized multiple scaled plates to protect the ears and neck.[6]

Soldiers required light maneuverable armor because of Japan’s mountainous terrain. Smiths constructed nearly unchanged arms, neck, and leg pieces with overlapping scales of lacquered steel, leather, and rope.[7] The main components of the armor contained hoate, kote, haidate, and suneate, and protected the face, forearms, upper and lower legs respectively.[8] Connecting these scales or gaps between them lied chainmail, or gusari, which was a new adaptation of the old kusari. Patterns of four-in-one round chains, called gusari, served as a protective glue patched between armor pieces.[9]

Armor and firearms continued to develop in Japan and the West, but nanban armor is the first bulletproof armor in Japan. Nanban armor is a leading example of the cultural and technological exchange between Europe and Japan after establishing first contact in 1543. Nanban armor, supported and developed under Tokugawa Ieyasu’s regime, created the trend following Japan’s armor development for the next 150 years.

[1] Turnbull, Stephen. “Battle of Sekigahara.” Britannica. October, 2018.

Begin Japanology. Directed by Peter Barakan. Tokyo: NKH World, 2011.

[2] Turnbull, Stephen. “Battle of Sekigahara.” Britannica. October, 2018.

[3] Sinclaire, Clive. Samurai: the Weapons and Spirit of Japanese Warrior. New York: Lyons Press, 2004. Pg 32.

[4] Harada, Kazutoshi. Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. Pg 68.

[5] Harada, Kazutoshi. Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. Pg 68.

[6] Begin Japanology. Directed by Peter Barakan. Tokyo: NKH World, 2011.

Bedrosov, Boris P. The Evolution of Japanese Armour., 2018.

[7] Begin Japanology. Directed by Peter Barakan. Tokyo: NKH World, 2011.

[8] “Nanban (Western style) Armor.” E-Museum. October, 2018. Japan National Museums.

[9] Bedrosov, Boris P. “The Evolution of Japanese Armour.” My Armoury. 2018.


Works Cited

Bedrosov, Boris P. The Evolution of Japanese Armour., 2018.

Begin Japanology. Directed by Peter Barakan. Tokyo: NKH World, 2011.

Harada, Kazutoshi. Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868.

New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.

“Nanban (Western style) Armor.” E-Museum. October, 2018. Japan National


Sinclaire, Clive. Samurai: the Weapons and Spirit of Japanese Warrior. New

York: Lyons Press, 2004.

Turnbull, Stephen. “Battle of Sekigahara.” Britannica. October, 2018.